FORT WORTH, Texas (Christian Examiner) – Abraham Lincoln rarely, if ever, spoke of Jesus Christ, but he often spoke of the God of the Bible.
He seemed enamored with the wrath, judgment and justice of God, perhaps so because he saw it expressed in the great struggle to preserve the Union during its terrible Civil War.
Throughout that conflict, Lincoln repeatedly sought to figure out how God worked in the midst of the bloody struggle, and to whom God – the same God prayed to on both sides of the battlefield – would listen as soldiers and generals called for the defeat of their enemies and the preservation of their own lives and ideas.
He expressed this view in his second inaugural address in March 1865 when he said:
"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes."
There is no axiom of Scripture truer than this. God has His own ways. His decisions, indiscernible judgments ill perceived by men, ultimately serve his purposes – irrespective of America's position or even its presence in the world.
This is true in our elections. All of the Twitter handwringing and virtual tears on social media will not change what God has ordained.
God has seated Donald Trump in the presidency. Perhaps He has done this for our benefit and for the benefit of people yearning to be free around the world. Perhaps He has done this to chasten our people and the church. I dare not say which it is, for I do not know the mind of God.
Only time will reveal what His will is.
I do, however, know what I find in Scripture to be true. His ways are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). He will do what seems good to Him (1 Samuel 3:18), even if it takes 400 years to accomplish righteously (Genesis 15:16). He sometimes uses political rebellion for his purposes (1 Kings 12:15).
He "sets up kings and deposes them" (Daniel 2:21). He seats in office those who may not even have the character of a godly, churchgoing man or woman and who may even be pagan (Jeremiah 27:6, Isaiah 45:1).
He acts, in spite of a leader's flawed character, to ensure that the ruler's heart – even the heart of a scoundrel – is turned toward his purposes ultimately benefitting His people and bringing glory to His name (Proverbs 21:1).
It is also a biblical certitude that God commands His people to pray for those in authority over them (1 Timothy 2:1-3) and to respect the decisions of a properly constituted authority (Romans 13:1-7).
In this case, that is the will of the people who voted and from whom those administering our Republic derive the consent to govern.
Accepting the certainty of these truths is hard in the wake of political warfare – and it was warfare, absent only the death that comes with it. There is vitriol. There is violence. There is even bloodshed. Now, protest marches and calls of "not my president" ring in the streets. Perhaps another, larger battle looms as competing visions for the future of the United States are drawn into focus.
Whatever happens, I know what Lincoln said in his Meditation on the Divine Will (1862) is true:
"The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time."
Like Lincoln, I believe that God's purpose in our present situation may be different from those advocated by the political parties in our country. Yet, he just may be using our adaptations of political life and our mere "human instrumentalities" to accomplish it. God wills the contest between us, as Lincoln said, and "he wills that it shall not end yet."
Let us keep our eyes open to the movement of God in our history and, as Lincoln said, pray not that He is on our side, but that we are on His.
Dr. Gregory Tomlin covers the intersection of politics, culture and religion for Christian Examiner. He is also Assistant Professor of Church History and a faculty instructional mentor for Liberty University Divinity School. Tomlin earned his Ph.D. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also studied at Baylor University and Boston University's summer Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He wrote his dissertation on Southern Baptists and their influence on military-foreign policy in Vietnam from 1965-1973.